Chinese representatives tried to influence German government officials to give positive comments about Beijing’s management of the coronavirus outbreak, Germany’s Die Welt newspaper reported Sunday.
The virus first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December and Beijing has been criticised by some — most notably US President Donald Trump — over its initial handling of the crisis.
Senior officials and staff at German government ministries were invited “to speak in positive terms about China’s management of the coronavirus,” Die Welt said, citing a confidential foreign ministry document.
The foreign ministry recommended that all German governmental departments reject such approaches, the newspaper added. The ministry has declined to confirm or deny the report.
However a German intelligence source told Die Welt that “Chinese officials are pursuing an intensified information and propaganda policy with regard to the coronavirus”.
Beijing has sought to counter the narrative that the outbreak began in China and highlighted its assistance to Western countries “in order to present the People’s Republic as a trustworthy partner,” Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution said.
The pandemic has shaken the world, killing more than 107,000 people and infecting over 1,745,000, wreaking vast economic damage and prompting a rash of finger-pointing.
Trump and his administration had made a point of referring to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus” or the “Wuhan virus”, infuriating Beijing.
The US president has also cast doubt on the accuracy of official Chinese virus figures and accused the World Health Organization of pro-China bias.